Relationship Connection: How do I stop my parents from controlling my life? 

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My parents both went to a certain university, and when I was old enough to attend college, they wouldn’t listen when I told them I wanted to go somewhere else. I was accepted to that university, and the choice was made. I didn’t get a say about where I wanted to spend the next few years of my life. I tried to bring it up, but it was swept aside and pushed away.

My parents are loving people, but they struggle to see things from a different point of view. 

Plus, my family pays for my housing and tuition. I feel grateful and lucky to have my expenses paid for, but it’s stressful that if I chose to leave this university, all my financial support would go away. They’ve never threatened it, but it’s been a concern of mine. I’ve never been in charge of my finances, so I’m not really sure how to handle all of that stuff.

They don’t mean harm at all, but it can cause a lot of stress for someone who struggles with mental health issues. How do you cope when someone is telling you it’s not your place to make a decision that you believe should be yours to make? 


You’re asking questions that signal you’re ready to take more ownership and responsibility for your life. I can see how challenging it will be for you to risk the security you’re currently enjoying. While I don’t know your parents or their desires for you, my belief is that, like virtually all parents, they want you to live a happy and fulfilling life.

However, it’s normal for parents to let their own dreams for their children influence how they support their children. The good news is that you don’t have to stay stuck here if this isn’t what you ultimately want for your life. 

I think it’s wise to give your parents the benefit of the doubt. On the surface, it might seem dismissive. However, most parents who disregard their children’s preferences do this for more innocuous reasons. Perhaps your mental health issues were alarming enough to your parents to convince them you needed more structure and support while you acclimated to college life.

Perhaps they didn’t want to burden you with the responsibility to financially support yourself while you focused on your studies. It’s also possible you sent the message that you were anxious about leaving home and taking on additional stressors. There are countless possibilities that could have contributed to their decision to send you to their university of choice.

In addition to understanding that your parents are likely coming from a thoughtful and generous place, it will be helpful for you to get clear on your motivation to attend a different school. Is it about a particular school you are interested in, paying your own way or breaking free of your parents’ influence so you can be your own person?

You’ll have more clarity about what direction to go when you understand what you really think and feel. 

Once you are clear on what is important to you, a conversation with your parents might be the next step. If this is the case, you’ll want to ask good questions to understand why an education at this university is so important to them. You’ll want to take ownership for the fact that you didn’t speak up strongly enough about your preference before you started at this university.

You can also own that their generosity helped you get on your feet and build the strength necessary to find your voice and speak up about what you need. This can all be a move toward getting out of the dynamic that you initially co-created with them.

You are naturally afraid of creating a problem in your relationship with your parents. You can take this as an opportunity to use your voice while remaining respectful and curious. You’ll want to make sure you talk about what’s important to you, rather than what you believe they are doing wrong.

Remember, in the same way you’re ready to grow and mature into a new stage, your parents can also grow. One thing you’ll discover about being a fully grown adult is that you’ll disappoint other people, especially your parents. There’s nothing wrong with this. As Dr. Julie Hanks often says, “No one has ever died from being disappointed.”

You are also naturally afraid of losing your funding. You seem to understand that the financial realities of paying for college expenses are heavy. Another part of being a fully grown adult is understanding and being willing to live with the consequences of the choices you make.

If your parents are offering a scholarship only to this university, which it is their right to do, do you have a plan for how you’ll financially support yourself at a different school? If you think you’ll still need and/or want their financial support, you may decide you want to continue in this arrangement until you are better prepared to do something different. 

Your answer to many of these questions will tell you if you are ready to make such a major life decision. If you’ve never had this kind of a conversation where you speak so directly to your parents about your needs and preferences, seek out professional counseling or coaching to help you feel clearer and more confident about your approach. 

This is an exciting time to appreciate the support you’ve been receiving, clarify your new direction, and explore if they are willing to work with you to make it a reality. If they only have one offer for you, don’t make your relationship with them contingent on their funding. You can appreciate their kindness and move forward with your plan.

This is exactly what healthy independent adults do every single day as they clarify what they need, gather resources to make it happen, and courageously move forward.

Thanks to Jody Steurer from for her helpful insights and support with this column 

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